Monday, November 19, 2007

Today In History - A Battle That Took Place In July 1863 Was Memorialized

It was the Battle of Gettysburg, and was one of the most noteworthy battles of the American Civil War. It was notable because of how much blood was spilt being that it was the battle with the highest number of casualties throughout the whole war. It was notable because it was the furthest north that the Confederate troops took any of their battles. It was notable because of the many feats of heroism performed by soldiers on both sides, one example of such being the bayonet charge ordered by Chamberlain at Little Round Top when attacked by overwhelming Confederate forces, another being the bravery and dedication of Confederate cavalry in Pickett's charge this time against overwhelming Union forces. It was notable because it is believed to have been the turning point or most decisive battle toward the outcome of the war.

It was and remains notable because of the attention it was paid by one man who, on November 19, 1863, gave a short speech in reference to it and to the soldiers who fought and died there, and to the reasons for the battle. After waiting through a dedication speech for a military cemetary at Gettysburg, a speech that took almost two hours to be fully orated by Edward Everett, a popular spokesman of the time, it was time for another person to make a speech. That person was the president of the United States of America, Abraham Lincoln. He stood up and spoke words to dedicate the place - not as hallowed ground, but in memory of those who had hallowed it with their blood. He made a speech that lasted all of two minutes and a few seconds if that long; a speech that he thought would certainly be forgotten.

Yet it remains a speech the words of which have not been forgotten through history to this day, and which will not be forgotten tomorrow. The words of the speech can be found inscribed within the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. Those words, some of the most important words ever spoken about war, can also be seen below. Note that there are at least 5 drafts, all differing somewhat from one another, of this speech. There were also several contemporaneous reports of this speech made by news reporters. Those reports indicated that the words: "under God" were in fact spoken by Lincoln during the address despite written drafts that do not show those words. Lincoln was not known to divert from his written draft of a speech while actually making a speech, so it is quite possible that there was yet another earlier draft, the actual from which Lincoln read, that has been lost to us:

"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate - we can not consecrate - we can not hallow - this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us - that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion - that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain - that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom - and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

I have read those powerful words many times throughout my lifetime; I have read them from the walls of the Lincoln Memorial, from textbooks, from websites, and from memorial plaques. I have visited several Civil War battlefields, and I think of those words each time I have been to such hallowed places. The straightforward meaning of those few words, and the eloquence with which they flow, have always evoked strong feelings of patriotism within my bosom, and I imagine they will everlastingly do so within the hearts of the multitude. If you desire to discover more about the Gettysburg Address, or about the Battle of Gettysburg or the Civil War, that information can be found at:

All the best,
Glenn B